What does it mean to design for the future? Historically, Architects and designers have always had their mind on the future. These architectural visions push the limits of how the city, and the buildings that comprise it should function for the individuals they serve. We’ve seen some epic failures and great successes in design, the failures never tend to stay long, but the successes redefine the future they inhabit. Whatever the era or century, designers are always looking to solve a critical problem of the present and future through design. This is of course happening today too.We face some issues today at some point or another in the near future, must be addressed. The city and the buildings that make it can actually be a solution. The population of urban areas is projected to double to a mind-blowing 5.2 billion by 2050. It will take some inventive design to solve the issues that are sure to come with such dense living. When looking forward, one should first always look back to see the successes and follies of the past. Lets look at some of the more interesting examples of futuristic urban planning in the past, and take a look towards the future.
Haussman Rebuilds Paris
The idea of planning a city stretches back to the development of cities in antiquity. The value of a well-planned cityscape was discovered in war, commerce and city living. Many cities grew organically though, and most poorly. Paris was one of those. By the mid-19th century, the French capitol hadn’t changed much from its Medieval roots and the state was ready to move the city forward. Under the direction of Napoléon III, [easyazon-link asin=”156663427X” locale=”us”]Georges-Eugène Haussmann began a 2.5 billion francs renovation of the city[/easyazon-link].
Haussmann’s renovations included the construction of numerous main avenues, boulevards and squares, as well as setting requirements for buildings along these new thorough-ways. The revisionists rid Paris of its irregular, uneven, cramped streets and paved the way (literally) for the Paris we know today: wide avenues, street-side cafe’s, harmonized facades and mansard roofs in the Second Empire style. Paris came to resemble, as some call it, a city-wide palace. Fun fact about the renovations: the widening of the streets and systematic construction made policing easier; they allowed troops and artillery to move through the city more efficiently. Some detractors said Napoléon III was actually just looking to make Paris easier to control in the event of a riot or rebellion, which were common at the time. Haussmann’s work, known know as “Haussmannian” has fallen in and out of favor with Parisians over the last 150 years, but theres no doubt he vastly improved upon the French capital of yesteryear. His renovations successfully answered the two main issues of the time: hygiene and quality of life. Well done Baron.
The Garden City
While Haussmann and his Parisian buddies sought to improve upon a more than well established city, the proponents of the [easyazon-link asin=”0300191499″ locale=”us”]Garden City[/easyazon-link] concept sought to build cities entirely from the ground up. By the end of the 19th century, industrialization had basically transformed most Western cities into giant factories and inhabitants suffered greatly for it. Sir Ebenezer Howard saw another way. Inspired by Edward Bellemy’s futuristic utopian novel [easyazon-link asin=”0486290387″ locale=”us”]Looking Backward[/easyazon-link], Howard came up with the “garden city” concept: a proportionately-designed small, self-sufficient city of no more than 50,000. The land was to be bought in trust, and the cities were to be surrounded by agricultural land. A garden city combined best of the town and country to provide the working class with an enjoyable, clean place to live. They also doubled to curb the suburban sprawl that was plaguing so many cities. When a garden city filled to a likeable capacity, another one would branch off it, eventually creating a network of garden cities connected by trains and roadways. Sound quite utopian doesn’t it?
Like most things that are meticulously planned and for the greater good, the garden city concept didn’t really take off. Howard managed to get two built. Neither accomplished what he wanted them to; one became too expensive for working class people and the other was basically reduced to a suburb of London. They did inspire similar projects for commuter towns and garden suburbs, both of which Howard vehemently opposed… So yeah, things didn’t work out for Howard. Funny how that sort of thing tends to happen isn’t it?
Building the Post-war City
After World War II, the world (particularly Europe) was tired, beat, and broken. The people were disillusioned with the past and sought to move forward. It was a new world with new ideas springing up everywhere. In the 60 years since the war, architects have proposed seemingly every kind of solution for man’s perceived problems. Since we can’t talk about every one, heres a couple that are particularly interesting:
Le Corbusier’s Unite d’Habitation
[easyazon-link asin=”1466216395″ locale=”us”]Le Corbusier[/easyazon-link] is one of the more controversial modern architects of the 20th century. Some love his often crude-looking design, others loathe them. Either way, his designs were certainly revolutionary. The Unite d’Habitation may be his most famous. The housing complex was an application of his Modulor proportion concept. Le Corbusier had five nearly identical Unite’s built, four in France and one in Berlin. The Modulor was based on the proportions of an 6ft tall English man with his head raised, and Le Corbusier used it to generate the (generous) dimensions of the Unite’s structure and living spaces. He designed it to be built from steel, but as post-war reserves were low, he had to use concrete.
As a result, the Unite was a key influence of the “Brutalist” aesthetic and philosophy that made heavy use of concrete. All those cold-war looking concrete behemoths you’ve probably encountered before are probably Brutalist. And you probably hated them, for good reason. Despite for the most part being aesthetic nightmares, this style actually has a quite noble, popular-serving philosophy behind it: affordable, long-lasting structures built to promote social welfare. Unfortunately most buildings didn’t quite make the grade. Very few were built with the generous proportions Le Corbusiers, and most give off the bleak, downright totalitarian vibe of the [easyazon-link asin=”0151010269″ locale=”us”]Orwell’s Ministry of Love[/easyazon-link]. This concrete monstrosity is the Buffalo City Court Building. It was built from 1970-74, right about when the Brutalist movement started to lose traction with the public, to no one’s surprise. The objective of the largely windowless facade was to protect the court rooms and official chambers from outside distraction. Besides that it certainly emphasizes the power and impenetrability of the law. I see it as a monument to the moral strength to the legal system, but still not a place I would like to find myself.
The pre-packaged skyscraper
Moving from Le Modulor to modular (yes they are different)… as the Modernist movement continued into the 50’s and 60’s, new philosophy’s were born from it. As technology developed and life moved ever-faster, architects theorized that in the future, people will need flexible, adaptable living and working spaces. Modular design was the solution. The idea is to build pre-fabricated modules that are able to be plugged in or taken out of a building structure based on need. That way the building is able to respond to ever-changing needs. One of the coolest and future-y modular buildings is the Nakagin Capsule Tower in Toyko, completed in 1972. The Capsule Tower was built by one of the premier names in the[easyazon-link asin=”3836525089″ locale=”us”]Japanese Metabolist movement[/easyazon-link], Kisho Kurokawa. It was as futuristic as it got back then, complete with an built in TV and cassette player. Sweet. The tower is just the coolest, but has fallen into disrepair. The modules are too small, and the residents are ready to have it knocked down to make way for a bigger and better building. The Capsule Tower probably won’t be there in a few years, so if you end up in Tokyo anytime soon, go visit. Or just check out this story by Nicolai Ourousoff, and these awesome pictures from Tokyo Times.
Architectural Visions: Future Implications
Of course these are only just a sample of futuristic designs of the past. We look to cover more futuristic designs from yesteryear, so don’t worry. But what about [easyazon-link asin=”B005FLOGMM” locale=”us”]our future[/easyazon-link]. At the time, all of these designs were cutting edge, based on the best possible estimations of what the future would be like. But when the estimation is off, instead of building the future these buildings and urban plans become often humorous (or disastrous) relics of the past. We have our own ideas about the future, but are we right? And how are we building it?
Easily the two biggest concern of our age are for the environment and for accommodating the rapidly growing world population. Lets face it, the 20th century city isn’t exactly the most environmentally-friendly to live in. The solution? Start from scratch by building green cities from the ground up. The most well-known of these is Masdar City, an ambitious $20 billion project taken up by the government of Abu Dhabi. It’s designed by architecture giant Foster + Partners, and will be a zero-carbon, car free city. It was expected to be completed by 2016, but now is projected for 2025, when it will then probably be pushed back. How will you get around in Masdar City? These funny-looking little car pod things.
Heres a figure for you: the projected population in urban areas in 2050 will be more than the entire population of the world in 1990. So we should probably start thinking of how to house all those people in as little space as possible, which admittedly just makes me want to move to the country and be a farmer. One answer is the arcology model. Its a combination of “architecture” and “ecology”, and aims to put a massive amount of people into huge self-sufficient city-structures. The concept was developed throughout the 20th century, but has never been put into practice on a massive scale because they’re somewhat unrealistic. This arcology design by Yanko Designs however is claimed to be entirely feasible using current materials and technologies. Would you live in the Boa? If you want to see some more cool designs for arcologies and green cities, check out this great list that Urban Titan put together.
Aesthetic styles come and go, but eco-efficiency is likely here to stay. We’ll no doubt find more efficient ways to generate and use energy, and better ways to house people. As we investigate these new directions, visions from the past are good place to start. There’s something to be learned from Le Corbesier’s Modulor, from the publi-centric Garden City, and contemporary architects and planners know it, you can see it in many modern designs. Perhaps the past can help inform our future in a concrete way; fusing the revolutionary concepts of yesterday with the incredible design potential we have today. Either way, lets just hope we won’t ever be forced to live in a floating city, although I might go by choice.